The Last Word: The day John Terry gave me a ring
He talked a good game but his behaviour only fuels the notion that football is a death star
Sunday 15 July 2012
In this line of business, a missed call from an unfamiliar number on any given Sunday is unlikely to lead to a quiet life. "Hello Michael," read the accompanying text message, "it's John Terry from Chelsea. Would you mind calling me when you get a chance, please?"
A similar request from Frank Lampard a few months earlier had led to a 45-minute exchange of views. Neither of us required amplification, as we agreed to disagree. The tenor of the hour-long conversation with Terry, civil and reflective, was completely different.
It was at the height of tawdry allegations about his private life, which provided the narrative for his appearance last week at Westminster Magistrates Court. Then, as now, I saw no reason to hide my scepticism of Terry as a self-styled Warrior King. The chainsaw of his character continues to dismember reputations, including his own.
Terry admitted he was not perfect. He had made mistakes, but was not a bad person. He had not lost touch with his roots, though he understood his good fortune. Childhood friends had died prematurely, or had been imprisoned. He would play football for nothing if he had to.
This was not the central character in the courtroom video from Loftus Road, with a pale, taut face framed by aggression. But it was the case for the defence.
Terry was soft-voiced, firm in his adherence to traditional standards. Young players, who loved the lifestyle, but not the game, were anathema to him. Without the mutual respect of the dressing room, he was nothing.
We spoke about our respective families, and the responsibilities of leadership. He was a captain who believed in being first on the training ground. He was already taking notes in preparation for a career in management.
But were his words devoid of meaning, stripped of substance? The question is more relevant than it has ever been. Even Terry's most frenzied advocates – malign individuals who will torment the Ferdinand family for years to come – know the psychodrama is incomplete.
The FA face the type of decision all bureaucrats dread. They must act upon the cosy clichés of their duty of care to the game. If they waver, their Respect campaign will be rightly condemned as a cynical piece of PR puffery.
It is already an insult to the intelligence of the constituency at which it is aimed. While the majority of black footballers continue to be intimidated by opportunities to discover their voice, there can be no progress. Terry is not, and never will be, a role model. But why should he be expected to be so when the supposed guardians of the game are exposed as kleptocrats and fools? The beautiful game is shaped by ugly people.
The notion that Sepp Blatter can survive as football's most powerful man, after confirmation that he knew Joao Havelange, his predecessor as Fifa president, had taken large amounts of money in "commission", should beggar belief.
But we are conditioned to such amorality. It's pathetic, yet perversely conformist. Football is a death star, on the edge of implosion.
Absurdly wealthy young men, old before their time, are surrounded by sycophants. Their flaws are airbrushed by fame, so they behave with the emotional incontinence of infants. Terry's visible astonishment when he was dismissed for that cowardly assault on Barcelona's Alexis Sanchez in the Champions' League semi-final symbolises a culture in which actions do not carry consequences.
Irrespective of the outcome of any disciplinary action by the FA, the notion of him reclaiming the England captaincy, yet again, is risible. Yet the uncomfortable truth, that he will not go away, must be confronted.
An anthem from my youth acts as an earworm, working towards the brain: "Whatever happened to all the heroes?" the Stranglers sang way back in 1977, punk's summer of hate. "They watched their Rome burn. No more heroes any more."
Smell the smoke, John? The number's unchanged.
Millar is no dope for being honest
At last, the truth. No more obfuscation or massaging of reality. Thanks to David Millar and Bradley Wiggins, cycling can legitimately ask to be taken at face value.
It wasn't so much what Millar did on Friday, winning a Tour de France stage on the 45th anniversary of the terrible death of Tommy Simpson, but what he said: "I am an ex-doper who is now clean. There is never any point in hiding that. I have a duty to remind people where our sport has been."
Mea culpa may not be much of a marketing slogan, but it has unique power, and enduring relevance.
Cycling must tell its story proactively instead of cowering from the consequences of the latest Lance Armstrong drugs case.
It must listen to Wiggins, who is no less passionate than Millar about the only issue preventing cycling becoming the boom sport of the next decade.
His anger at the suspicion of strangers may be expressed in expletive-laden streams of consciousness, but it is healthy.
The Tour is an awesome human challenge. If you believe no one cheats, in response give my love to the fairies at the bottom of your garden.
If you believe Wiggins is in thrall to the chemists, I pity you.
Scottish football's suicide pact is complete, with Rangers' apparent installation in the Third Division. And yet some still want to drag the corpses into a reconstituted Scottish Premier League. SPL 2 would be a ghoulish, ghastly experience.
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